Next UK PM: Rishi Sunak is frontrunner as others mull bids

Nearly 10 candidates are expected to be in the fray for post

File photo
File photo

By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Sat 9 Jul 2022, 7:17 PM

Last updated: Sat 9 Jul 2022, 10:24 PM

A day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson stepped down as leader of the Conservative party, Rishi Sunak, who resigned as the chancellor, announced his bid to replace him in Downing Street, while others, such as former health secretary Sajid Javid, are expected to join the race soon.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Saturday announced that they are standing for the Conservative Party leadership.

The timetable and process of the election is due to be announced on Monday. Nearly 10 candidates are expected to be in the fray initially, who will then go through several rounds of voting by party MPs, with those with the least votes eliminated, until two remain.

The final vote on the two candidates will be cast by nearly 200,000 members of the party through a postal ballot. The winner will be the next party leader and the prime minister, who will take over from Johnson, who is now a caretaker until the election is completed.

Sunak announced his candidature in a slick video, while others in the fray so far are Suella Braverman, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch. It is expected that Javid, Penny Mordaunt and Rehman Chisti would join the list shortly.

It is the first time in British political history that there are so many candidates for the top job from ethnic minority communities. Sunak, who entered the House of Commons in 2015 and rose rapidly since, is the bookmakers’ favourite. Several prominent MPs have publicly endorsed him.

In the video titled ‘Ready for Rishi’, Sunak recalled his Indian heritage and the journey of his grand-mother and parents through life. His back-story is expected to tick the right boxes, besides his experience as the chancellor during the difficult period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, allies of Johnson have already started briefing against Sunak, for having sabotaged the person who elevated him to be the chancellor. Others question his position on taxes, his and his family’s prosperity, and whether he realises the gravity of issues facing the common man.

Sunak was put on the backfoot earlier this year when the tax affairs of his wife, Akshata, were leaked, suggesting that she was not paying taxes in the UK on income outside the country. Besides, Sunak also received a fixed penalty from the police for attending a party in Downing Street, along with Johnson.

An unnamed source at No 10 told the BBC that there was "real disappointment" with Sunak in Downing Street, accusing him of having a "short memory", and adding: "It was the prime minister who trusted him and gave him a top job when he was a junior minister. The prime minister backed him to the hilt. It's a shame it wasn't reciprocated."

After his video was widely watched, Sunak said on Saturday: “Thank you. I’ve been truly overwhelmed by the support and so grateful for the thousands of people who have signed up to join the campaign. Together we will restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country”.

Sunak said in the video that he wanted to "restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country", adding: "Someone has to grip this moment and make the right decisions. Do we confront this moment with honesty, seriousness and determination or do we tell ourselves comforting fairy tales that might make us feel better in the moment but will leave our children worse off tomorrow".

Sunak, son-in-law of Indian IT major Infosys’ founder N R Narayana Murthy, reminded viewers that he had run the "toughest department in government during the toughest times when we faced the nightmare of Covid".

He promised "to lead this country in the right direction" based on values of "patriotism, fairness and hard work", adding that the country faced "huge challenges" and that decisions made now would determine whether the next generation got "the chance of a better future".

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